Regarding Casual Games – My Thoughts, My Theory

Recently I have been thinking a lot about casual games and I wanted to ramble about these thoughts and provide you all with a small theory I have.

Before We Get Going, What is a Casual Game?

“Casual games”, “dice fests”, “Ameritrash”, “just for fun”, have all been used to describe what I consider, and am simply calling, casual games. These are games where there are decisions to make but in the end anyone can win because of a fairly high amount of luck (or perhaps we should say “high amount of random elements”). The only other stipulation I would put on this loose definition is that the games generally have low aggressive interaction between players. The reason I mention this is that I would not really consider Risk a casual game (though most would still call it Ameritrash).



There are several reasons I have been thinking about casual games recently. One is that one of the guys in our group recently purchased Exalted: Legacy of the Unconquered Sun which we have played once but were not super impressed by. This game got me thinking about how, in some ways, I miss playing more casual games where the winner is sometimes the person who noticed something the others didn’t but is often just the guy that got the right couple cards.

A long time ago in the City of Canandaigua Scott and I use to play a lot of games. One of the games we played fairly often was Talisman. For those who don’t know the game it is one of the original games that mimics a role playing game by having players go on a quest.

Other examples of “go on a quest” games would include Dungeon and the more recent addition Runebound. While these games are technically competitive (in the sense that you are competing to win the game) most the action is against the game itself rather than the other players. This certainly helps with the game being more casual.

Scott and I would play Talisman with just the two of us for hours. I had pretty much every expansion which gave more options than just the base game but still in Talisman many turns involve making one choice: right or left?

The game has players roll a single six sided die and then decide which way to move around a board. Often one of your choices is simply bad and thus the other is your obvious route. After moving many spaces will have you draw a card and roll even more dice as you fight a monster or have some random event happen to you.

Does any of this involve skill? Certainly not. At best you could say that someone who knows the game better might have a slight advantage as they could know what cards are coming up but even that is a major stretch. Essentially the game boils down to a bunch of die rolls and the winner is more or less determined randomly. A friend after playing the most recent version of Talisman (that, to be fair, only included the base game with no expansions) commented that you might as well get out all the parts for the game, have every player roll a die and whomever rolled highest wins and then put the game away. And… he has a point.

Still, when Scott and I use to play Talisman we would both have a blast. A good casual game can lead to a lot of laughs and a nice evening of hanging with your friends. There are still jokes that float through my head from the days when Scott and I would play this casual dice-fest and I’m not at all embarrassed to admit it.

In Defense of Casual Games

As I said casual games can lead to a lot of laughs. The reason for this is that when all players don’t really care who wins (since no one is really proving anything by being the winner) a lot of the possible stress comes off the game. Players can simply enjoy the ride and make their best decisions (playing to win is still important) but not worry so much about the outcome.

I have become more of a fan of Eurogames recently. But, I feel that with most of these games comes a certain amount of stress. While there is some amount of chance involved in Eurogames there is obviously less luck than in a game like Talisman and because players can be good or bad at the game it can be frustrating. A game that is all luck can also be frustrating but for most it’s easier to just look at your poor dice rolls and laugh it off.

Essentially I feel that every game does not need to be a struggle and that sometimes it’s cool to play a game that simply doesn’t matter. The old adage “it’s just a game” truly comes into play when playing a game that involves more chance than one where a player can bring their experience with the game to bear and thrash newer players.

My Theory

None of what I have written is really all that informative. Some people just don’t enjoy playing games where they have little effect on how well they do. They would much rather play a game with a ton of choices, where they win or lose because of the decisions they have made and this is fine. I am in no way trying to diss strategic games or those who enjoy them, nor am I trying to diss those who don’t enjoy random dice-fest Ameritrash games. But this does lead us to my theory.

Essentially I feel that casual games are the gamer version of watching sports. Now, I actually watch a little football so I don’t want to imply that gamers can’t watch sports but some don’t and this feels like a good comparison to me. In both cases friends are getting together to enjoy a game where they cannot directly have an effect on the end results.

Really, in the casual games, you do have more of an effect than you can have while rooting for your team but I feel the concept is the same. You are with friends, probably having some snacks, chatting about life, telling jokes, and generally just trying to enjoy each other’s company. Sure, winning is kind of cool (either you in the game or the team you are rooting for) but the point of the get together is to be with people while you watch the event or play the game.

This analogy may not work for everyone but for me it puts in perspective why I like playing these kinds of games. I like my friends, I like hanging out with them having some snacks, chatting about life, etc. While some of this can be done during a game like Agricola it is certainly a lot easier to do it while playing a game like Last Night on Earth.


Not everyone will agree with me on this and I’m fine with it. The only real reason I decided to write about all of this is because I have kind of been missing the more casual kinds of games in our recent flurry of Euro craziness. I don’t want to stop playing Eurogames but sometimes I do wish we had more time to get out Last Night on Earth and while I didn’t love the Exalted game I really don’t feel as though my time was wasted for playing it. Feel free to comment below!

    ojiepat Says:

    As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy casual games, I will say that I can see the allure to some. I personally get the “Watching sports” feeling that Josh is describing from playing Co-op games. I enjoy watching sports with people and discussing the game. This comes out in co-op games, hang out with friends, discussing strategies to beat the board.

    Casual games, in my opinion, are best used to enjoy the theme of the game and again this is something I tend to get from the co-op games in our mix.

    So while I feel there is a place for casual games, they really don’t tend to be my cup of tea. Just the 2-cents from the guy in Josh’s gaming group who has the most problems with casual games. 😉


    I think the “watching sports” analogy is apt; you may not have much (or any) influence on the events unfolding, but you can still experience them with your friends and have a good time.

    That seems to be where the game’s theme, context, and atmosphere come into play. Since the game itself may as well be decided with a random dice roll, the theme and trappings of the game become highly important bits of scenery that differentiate this set of random outcomes from another set.

    Playing a strategic game within trappings you aren’t fond of might still be engaging if the game mechanics and strategy are engrossing. Playing a casual game that amounts to few important decisions you control leaves almost the entire burden of creating a fun experience on the game’s trappings, and the players.

    This may explain why “true fans” of football, soccer, baseball, etc. get so involved in stats, sport history, and so on.